​Melbourne is great and all, but sometimes you just want a break from the crowded city to see the ‘real’ Australia. Fortunately, the state of Victoria is full of one-day escape options just an hour or two out of town. From friendly historic mining towns to world-class wineries, ancient forests, and koala sanctuaries, these are some of the best spots for a day trip out in Melbourne’s natural backyard.

See the wildlife and experience iconic Phillip Island Penguin Parade

Are you an animal lover? Well, you’re in luck, because Australia is home to more than 250 types of native wildlife, and that includes the mega cute koalas. Drive to Moonlit Sanctuary at the top of the Mornington Peninsula, where you’ll get to interact with the tree-hugging herbivores, wallabies, kangaroos, and more. Go on to the Koala Conservation Centre where you can see the famous animal up close in their natural habitats. Then, make your way to the magical Phillip Island for the famous Penguin Parade, as the birds waddle back to their burrows from the ocean in the evening.

Alternatively, the Werribee Open Range Zoo on the other side of Melbourne city makes for quite an experience as well. You’ll board an open vehicle with your guide and drive off for a 90-minute safari adventure to see the African wildlife: giraffes, antelopes, zebras, and more. The Lion King, anyone?

Book a tour: Enjoy a convenient pick up from your hotel and head to Moonlit Sanctuary, experience a working farm at Churchhill Island, visit the Koala Conservation Centre, Nobbies Centre, and Penguin Parade. More details here.

Hop on Puffing Billy Steam Train to Yarra Valley for wine

Book your holiday accommodations at Yarra Valley from A$25/night

The Puffing Billy is Australia’s favourite steam train. And what better way to start your wine day out than to travel in style aboard the historic train? Departing from Belgrave, you can head there by driving through the Dandenong Ranges – complete with towering mountains dotted with ash trees, numerous waterfalls, and colourful birdlife like the stunning cockatoo. Once you board, you’ll be transported back in time from Belgrave down to Menzies Creek, where you can relax at some of the finest wineries and picturesque vinyards in Yarra Valley.

Book a tour: A day tour run by AAT Kings will take you through the entire itinerary, complete with hotel pickup and traditional morning tea at the Sherbrooke. It also includes comprehensive commentary and tastings at Rochford Wines and two other boutique wineries. More details here.

Climb The Grampians and see Australia’s Grand Canyon

Holiday rentals start from A$93/night in The Grampians

With expansive canyons, valleys, bush land, and waterfalls, the Grampians National Park is quite magical, and worth the trip out from Melbourne city. Roam the Grampians Range near Halls Gap, a little town perfect for lunch before you start your hike through Wonderland Turntable towards the Grand Canyon. It might not be one of the seven natural wonders of the world, but the unique Australian version will leave you awe-inspired with a stunning panorama over Victoria Valley and Stringybark Forest. Take in more views from the Reeds and Boroka lookouts, and more importantly, for the kangaroos and emus who frequently drop by. Did you know there are some 250 types of native birdlife around The Grampians as well?

Book a tour: A bus tour run by highly-awarded Go West Tours offers a 12-hour trip to popular spots around The Grampians, but not before stopping at the historic mining town of Ballarat for morning tea. Other sights include Silverband Falls and the ‘Grand Canyon’. More details here.

Try Gold Panning at Sovereign Hill, Ballarat

Holiday rentals start from A$95/night in Ballarat

As far as outdoor museums go, Sovereign Hill is massive. It is after all a recreation of life in the 1850s across a small village. As you travel back in time, you will discover the Ballarat region’s colourful history of mining and the gold rush of the time. Walk through the beautiful gardens, visit the Gold Museum, talk to the redcoats in their nostalgic costumes, and try your luck at gold panning in the Red Gully Creek, just like back in the day. There’s even a chance to go through the underground caves on the Red Hill mine tour. Really, there’s so much to see.

Book a tour: A special tour takes you right from your hotel to the doorstep of Sovereign Hill. Depending on which package you choose, you can also have a delicious lunch at the legendary New York Bakery or embark on a VIP wildlife encounter with kangaroos and koalas! More details here.

Drive the Great Ocean Road

Book your holiday rentals from A$64/night

The iconic Great Ocean Road is a classic road trip and one of those things to tick off your travel bucket list. Confident drivers can rent a car and make the drive yourself themselves, passing through some 270 kilometres of scenic coastline and a number of national parks (Port Campbell National Park and Great Otway National Park), golden beaches, as well as several coastal towns. And let’s not forget the magnificent Twelve Apostles – technically only eight are left, but who’s counting?

Book a tour: For a hassle-free journey, there’s a convenient bus tour with Go West Tours, which takes you to all the places we mentioned above and more, including Apollo Bay and Loch Ard Gorge, in just 13 hours. More details here.

Top Image: Photo courtesy of Jon Lin Photography